Austin Bay

Iran's bitter legacy informed a column written two weeks ago in which I argued that America's foremost diplomatic goal should be encouraging "a resilient alliance of Egyptian secularists, moderate Islamists and the military." Events this week suggest the Egyptians are in the process of forging a democratic front that includes the Egyptian military -- luckily, an organization packed with committed Egyptian nationalists.

Furthermore, it seems the Egyptians are creating the front themselves, thank you. That sends a very positive signal. Despite the turmoil and uncertainty, they aren't reacting as tyrannized subjects, but as active, responsible citizens.

Over the weekend, the Egyptian military presented a group of youthful Egyptian revolutionaries with its plan for handling the transition from authoritarian regime to government by consent of the governed.

Twenty-first century technology promotes transparency, so parts of the plan were posted on the Internet. It called for amending the constitution and holding a referendum on the changes within the next two months. Revolutionary leaders are scrutinizing the military plan, for many suspect the military's motives. Since the rise of Gamal Nasser six decades ago, the military has buttressed one strong man government after another. The New York Times reported one revolutionary leader's assessment: "We have asked for another meeting this week to tell them (the military) about our plans. Then we'll see."

How the military receives the counter-proposal is crucial. Rejection or ambivalent delay sends the ominous message that there is at least one strong faction of military Bonapartists who prefer pharaoh to freedom. The give and take of sincere negotiations among revolutionary factions and the military, ending in authentic compromise, however, will not only forward the process of building a democratic front but signal the emergence of genuine democratic politics.

Pray Egypt's senior military leaders take John Hancock's advice and pull with the public will to secure liberty.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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